From the peep palaces of Times Square to the cubicles of corporate America, Sam Lipsyte's stories wander a dark, comic road full of need and regret. His damaged, searching narrators deliver their reports of addiction, lust, loneliness, grief, and the doomed dream of rock 'n' roll with a sly lyricism and eerie spareness that somehow redeem them. Listen to this chorus of gallows humor and goodwill sometimes gone bad and hear wild voices rise out of the din of city living: Gary is a failed punk icon turned petty drug dealer and amateur self- actualization guru; the Chersky girl makes a strange midnight discovery roller-skating through a Depression-era morgue. Pot-dazed Trotskyists, summer-camp sadists, and babysitters with an eye toward erotic humiliation also make themselves known in the lost, shattered landscapes of Lipsyte's fictions. "When you have an old soul like I do," deadpans one hero, "everything gets old really quick. Nothing is new. An avocado, a glass of beer, everything tastes like it's been sitting out on a table too long." These stories, loosely linked in character and setting, recall the stark realism of Denis Johnson and the wild humor of Barry Hannah. In these poignant, sharp-witted tales, Sam Lipsyte proves himself one of today's most visceral and fearless short-story writers.
Sam Lipsyte's Venus Drive is tightly wound in more ways than one. Peopled by walking-wounded hipsters with crummy jobs, drug fiends in varied stages of addiction, and kids sent away to summer camp who act on their worst instincts, these sharply written short stories crackle with crafty, streetwise dialogue. Their first-person narratives place engaging, unstable people into seedy yet believable situations in a way that might remind the reader of Denis Johnson, Robert Stone, or Lynne Tillman. Perspectives vary from tale to tale, but these are characters engaged in compulsive pursuits who find themselves pushed to limits they didn't know they had. At his best, Lipsyte writes the way Miles Davis played trumpet--with a few lines, and some silence, he makes everything cohere. One of the gifts of this debut collection is its unsentimentality; the various vignettes come together to show us that "life on the edge" is uncannily similar to any other lifestyle choice. For some, fantasy and reality are just different channels on the same TV set. --Mike McGonigal